Hi Everywhere! is an interesting take on the travel social network. Rather than help users plan trips, it matches travelers to local guides in their destination city and then encourages both to record their experience in travel journals. It's an interesting idea, but will it work and is it even safe?
Hi Everywhere! is basically a simple classifieds service cum social network that matches travelers to people who live where they are going and are willing to show them around. Though the service seems to be based the US (domain registered to a US address and hosted on a US-based host), many of the users so far appear to be located outside North America -- and the majority of those in Asia.
Then again, the majority of 91 isn't very many. And even with 91 members, the site has so far only apparently hooked up three guides to three travelers (based on the number of travel journals -- reports on how a trip went after meeting a guide arranged via the site), and their requests area has just four people looking for guides (two traveling to China and two on their way to Argentina). And therein lies one problem with the site.
Image via Hi Everywhere!
Many social networks or sites that rely on user created content face a chicken and egg problem -- you need content to attract users and users to create content. Hi Everywhere! definitely has their work cut out for them in this regard. The service can only be useful if there are a large number of people in many cities willing to be guides. The benefit for guides, according to the site, is that "touring with foreigners let you rediscover your home towns." (sic) That doesn't seem like it will be enough to attract a large pool of guides worldwide. How many people really have the time to show strangers around town pro bono?
Another issue that concerns me is safety. When I'm traveling I like to think I can rely on the kindness of strangers to point me in the right direction (i.e., get help finding a landmark or a recommendation for a good place to have lunch), but there is a world of difference between asking a passerby for directions and arranging a weekend excursion with someone you've not had any interaction with before.
Certainly both travelers and local guides could be at risk to fall victim to predatory behavior when meeting people through the service. At least with dating sites or social networks, when people decide to meet they have generally been corresponding for weeks or months and decide to meet based on prior, positive interactions. For their part, Hi Everywhere!'s terms of service includes all sorts of language absolving them from any responsibility for anything that goes wrong when people meet up via the service. I am not a lawyer, but I'm not sure how well that will hold up in court.
In theory, Hi Everywhere! is a good idea -- it's always better to get an inside perspective when you travel so you can avoid the tourist traps and find the hidden local gems, but in practice, I'm not sure it will work, nor would I probably encourage anyone to set up meetings in foreign lands with complete strangers. And, I think for the sake of their service, Hi Everywhere better hope most of their users haven't seen Hostel.